Diamond in the Desert: Buddhism in the United Arab Emirates

Enjoy this summer project about Buddhist and Asian communities and arts and culture in the UAE: a “diamond in the desert”


Diamond in the Desert: A Vajrayogini Dance in the Liwa Oasis
Diamond in the Desert: The Dharma and the UAE’s House of Universal Truth

I have recently concluded my time shooting a documentary about Amituofo Care Centre (ACC) in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa. The only transit back to Hong Kong was from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was curious to see, despite the small odds, whether there might be any Buddhist communities to connect with or Buddhist places to visit in this megalopolis in the desert.

There are only several Buddhist institutions in Dubai, and although they are led by Sri Lankan monks, they serve all Buddhists that work in or visit the country. Two of them are Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery in the neighborhood of Jumeirah and Lankaramaya in Garhoud. Add to this the exciting opportunity to visit the Louvre in the capital of Abu Dhabi, and I have begun to craft a small and humble project that will hopefully offer a contribution to a less-covered country where the Buddhist diffusion still has reached into. 

Image by the author

There may be other landmarks, communities, or events to include within this project, but this project will consist of two articles: an analysis of how the UAE has come under the leadership of its current leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and a report on the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The collections of the Louvre stretch all across the world, encompassing the entire inheritance of humanity’s civilization and faith traditions. This is Buddhism’s ward as well.

This country of 9.3 million in the scorching sun is stereotypically cast as a haven of high finance or retreat for the wealthy (especially when it comes to Dubai). Even the Louvre, the cultural hub of Abu Dhabi, possesses architecture (by Jean Nouvel) that embodies the glamor the UAE is famous for. The UAE usually appears in the news as a nation carefully balancing powerful geopolitical interests, and we often hear of expats, tourists, and residents remarking on Dubai’s glimmering spires, vibrant culinary and bar scene, and glamorous entertainment.

Image by the author

“Diamond in the Desert” is a focused and targeted project that seeks only to cover the Buddhist landscape in Dubai, and cultural and artistic influences in Abu Dhabi. But if I do this right, perhaps it could, paradoxically, offer a picture of the UAE more on its own terms. Much like Hong Kong, the attractions of finance, power, and wealth, as photogenic and charismatic as they are, have somewhat obscured a rich, multi-layered story of culture, art, and faith in the country. Even if the presence of the Dharma is small, it is still a presence: oasis in the desert is welcome and precious precisely because it is so rare.

Imagine sifting hands through endless sand and unearthing a stunning jewel: that is what I hope Diamond in the Desert will present to you, as well as anyone who loves the UAE and calls it home.

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